The apostle Peter writes that “the end of all things is at hand”1 in the first of two letters to Christians that had been scattered abroad. This verse can raise some questions in regards to the expression “at hand.” Some understand, even insist, that Peter was writing that final judgment and the second coming of Jesus (“the end of all things”) was going to imminently take place (“is at hand”). In fact, the claim is that “at hand” always means imminence.

At least in this case, it does seem like Peter could be saying that the end was about to happen. In fact, one could also point to the use of “at hand” when both John the Baptist declared the “kingdom of heaven is at hand”9. Indeed, the kingdom of heaven did come just a few years later. So was the end of all things at hand when Peter wrote in the first century?

How Scripture answers "Was the end of all things at hand (1 Peter 4:7)?"

There are several reasons why Peter’s statement “the end of all things is at hand”1 was not a declaration of Jesus’ imminent return. In fact, it was a statement about Jesus’ certain, or inevitable, return. In this context1, Peter is expressing urgency (“at hand”) for his real point for these Christians to be ready!

Remember, Peter didn’t have the authority to even speak about the timing of Jesus’ return8. Rather, he wanted to impress a sense of urgency for their continued obedience since Jesus’ return was inevitable. (This fact alone requires that none of the New Testament writers – or Jesus Himself8 – wrote concerning the exact or approximate timing of Jesus’ return. Otherwise, they make Jesus a liar!)

But we can pull the contextual lens further back and look forward to Peter’s second epistle to this same audience for even more clarity. The final third of Peter’s second letter2 is dedicated to squashing any notion that he or they should be focused on the timing aspect8 of Jesus’ return. Rather, again, he addresses its inevitability and their need to be ready2.

Full and harmonious clarity comes if we pull the context lens all the way back, as it were, to examine all Scripture. Indeed, all the New Testament writers pleaded for urgency in one’s obedience in the same way that Peter did1. We also find other “at hand” statements expressing this same inevitability3,4,5,6,7,10. Of course, some do speak of imminence9,10, but definitely not all1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,10.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Since the end of all things is present, we should be serious and disciplined in order to pray continually. Most of all, continue to love each other earnestly since loving actions keeps one from sin. Be hospitable to each other without complaining.

Peter’s first letter to the “elect exiles” (brethren) that were faced with “various trials” (1:6). He wrote to strengthen and encourage them since they could or likely would be tested by a “fiery trial” (vs 12). This could be a trial peculiar to this particular group of Christians, but it is more likely the general “tribulation” that all Christians are promised during their lives of faithfulness.

Scripture-block application to this question

Peter encourages Christians to remain faithful because the “end of all things is at hand”.

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But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

Remember that to God one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day.

Peter’s letters have been of encouragement to the saints to remain strong during persecution and false prophets (vs 1).  God has not forgotten them or His promises (vs 9); the “day of the Lord” will come as a “thief in the night” (vs 10).

Scripture-block application to this question

Peter states a truth about the great disparity between God’s time and man’s.

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All of chapter three seems to be a clarification from his first letter about the end being “at hand”1. Indeed, some were expecting Jesus’ return to have been imminent (vs 4). Yet, Peter illustrates the vastness of God’s time by pointing all the way back to the creation and flood (vss 5,6) – thousands of years earlier. What? Thousands of years, Peter? “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness,” Peter retorts (vs 9), and goes on as if to clarify, now describing Jesus’ return as a “thief in the night” (vs 10).

Is not this laid up in store with me, sealed up in my treasuries? Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.

My [God] vengeance and judgment is certain and inevitable, according to their disobedience, for their unrighteousness is near and their destruction will come abruptly.

The chapter of “Moses’ Song” that he wrote and sang to the people (31:30) just after he has recorded all of God’s law (31:24) and just before his death. He extols the faithfulness of God (vs 4) and goes on to tell the story of the nation of Israel:

  • Personifies them as “Jacob” (vss 9-14) and how God cared for them.
  • Personifies them as “Jeshurun” (vss 15-18) and how they rebelled against God by “growing fat.”
  • Foretells the inevitable response by God for their disobedience (vss 19-42). Interestingly, vs 20 shifts to God’s words (no longer in the third person) and is a scathing rebuke that foretells their disobedience.
Scripture-block application to this question

God foretells His judgment on the people. A judgment that wouldn’t happen for hundreds of years, yet it’s spoken by God as “at hand” and inevitable.

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A song of Moses that by its very essence and main message of eventual condemnation contrasts the “in time” of man with the timelessness of God.

Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.
Pay attention to Me [God], those that are stubborn and walk in unrighteousness. My righteousness is inevitable and not far off, bringing salvation that is not delayed. I will put salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.
God’s spokesman, the prophet Isaiah, preaching to Judah around 700BC before the Babylonian captivity some 100-120 yrs away. God reminds Judah of their sins and God’s faithfulness and the inevitability of judgment. Specifically, He’s addressing “transgressors” (vs 8) and “stubborn of heart” (vs 12).
Scripture-block application to this question

God speaks of the “salvation in Zion” – a clear foreshadowing of Messiah – in terms that are “not far off” and “will not delay”…even though it’s many hundreds of years away.

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Just a few verses earlier, God makes the exact point to Judah that Peter makes to Christians2. Particularly verse 10, “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'” God will follow through in His time.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Do this knowing the time is urgent to wake from any slothfulness. We are closer to salvation than when we first obeyed. The night is nearly past and the day is at hand, therefore remove any unrighteous works from your lives and shine your light.

Paul is offering encouragement to the Christians in Rome. He has given some specific, practical instructions for daily life in the previous chapter (including to love one another – 12:10). In this chapter Paul turns to how a Christian should submit to and live under “governing authorities” (vs 1).

He relates the Old Law and its commandments to the fulfillment and culmination of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is just as Jesus had approved the lawyer’s summation of the Law (Luke 10).

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul uses “at hand” to describe the present reality, not something yet to come at all. It was an immutable state of the present condition.

For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, so all the nations shall drink continually; they shall drink and swallow, and shall be as though they had never been.
For the day of the Lord is nearly upon all wicked nations, when you reap the reward for your deeds. Just as you have drunk on My holy mountain, so shall all nations drink and consume so much, it will be as though you had never existed.

The short vision of Obadiah is in two parts. In the first half (vss 1-14), God through Obadiah, addresses Edom (descendants of Esau) and their mistreatment of His people during the series in invasions and the final conquest of Judah by the Babylonians.

In the second half (vss 15-21), we see the familiar shift from near-term circumstances to a broader and future reality within the context of “the day of the Lord” (vs 15). Some of these indicators:

  • vs 15: shift to “all the nations” (e.g. all gentiles; xref Is 65-66),
  • vs 16: “my holy mountain” (xref Is 2, Jo 2),
  • vs 17: “Mount Zion” (xref Jo 2, Mi 4, He 12).
Scripture-block application to this question

God’s judgment is certain and fixed on all the unrighteous.

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This could certainly be an extension of the preceding judgment upon Edom. However, as is typical with God’s judgments through the prophets, it moves to a future time and/or the ultimate or final judgment.

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt.

Weep, for the day of the Lord is near; certain is judgment from God almighty. As a result, all people will be humbled and every human heart will come into subjection.

Isaiah chapters 11-12 serve as a near continuous vision of things/events/signs “in that day”. Chapter 13 shifts to a more imminent (relatively) judgment on Babylon. Relatively, since Isaiah prophesied around 700BC, approximately 100 years before Babylon even rose to power, and about 150 years before they were conquered by the Medo-Persian empire (vs 17).

While this chapter is mainly focused on God’s judgment on Babylon via the Medo-Persian empire, an interesting interlude exists in the middle (vss 6-16). God, through, Isaiah speaks about “the day of the Lord” (vss 6,9) in terms similar to other descriptions of the final judgment of God upon all the earth. For example,

  • vs 7: “every human heart”,
  • vs 9: “destroy its sinners from it”,
  • vs 11: “punish the world for its evil”,
  • vs 13: “the earth will be shaken out of its place”.
Scripture-block application to this question

Much like Obadiah’s “part two”6, God through Isaiah shifts to appear to be speaking of the final “day of the Lord” – it is “near”, as in, “it will come.” It is inevitable.

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The chapter begins and ends talking about God’s judgment on Babylon some 150+ years later. In addition to it being “near” (e.g. certain), God concludes by stating “its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged” (vs 22).

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Nobody knows when the final day of the Lord will come, including even the angels in heaven and God’s only  Son. Only the Father knows.

This chapter, along with the next (chapter 25), constitutes a discussion between Jesus and his disciples sometimes referred to as the “Olivet Discourse.” Matthew is the only gospel writer to record the second half (chapter 25), while shorter versions of the first half can be found in Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 17:20-27 & 21:5-36.

Upon leaving the temple, Jesus comments on its destruction (vs 2).  Subsequently, they wanted to know about three things from Jesus: 1) the timing of the temple’s destruction, 2) the sign of His coming, and 3) the end of the age (vs 3). Jesus begins His answer, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray.” (vs 4-5)

Taking this backdrop and chapters 24 & 25 together it is clear Jesus is addressing God’s judgment on both the nation of Israel and His final judgment on all mankind. We can further contextualize this discussion by looking at other instances when God, through a prophet, would pronounce judgment on a nation. When we read Amos or Hosea regarding Israel’s judgment, Isaiah or Jeremiah regarding Judah’s judgment, or Obadiah regarding Edom’s judgment, we read about not only God’s judgment on that nation (a near-term “day of the Lord”) but also His eventual judgment on all mankind (a longer-term final “day of the Lord”). In fact, often the prophet (e.g. God) will go back and forth between near-term judgment events and long-term judgment events.

This is the same with Jesus and how He speaks about God’s judgment in chapter 24. Remember, the disciples had asked about both the timing of the destruction of the temple and His return (vs 3). Jesus shares events (vss 15-28) that will take place in their generation (vs 34) regarding the destruction of the temple (in fact, taking place about forty years later in 70AD).  He then speaks primarily about what will happen “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (vs 29), namely His return (vss 29-44), before concluding with three parables and describing what the final “day of the Lord” will look like.

Detail of the sequencing of Jesus’ prophecy re: a near-term “day of the Lord” and the final “day of the Lord”:

  • 24:4-14 – A broad review of events during the ‘end times’ (both near-term and long-term) when “lawlessness is increased”.
  • 24:15-28 – A near-term description of events that they would experience relating to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Something that in fact, would happen about forty years later (70AD).
  • 24:29-31 – A long-term description of the events of the second coming, the final judgment.
  • vss 32-34 – The near-term timing that He relates and explains with a parable about the fig tree for how they would identify the occurrence of “these things” (vs 33) and says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (vs 34).
  • 24:35-44 – The long-term timing, transitioned by contrasting things that will and won’t pass away (vs 34-35) and with “But…” (vs 36). This timing “no one knows” – not even Himself (vs 36).
  • 24:45-25:30 – Three parables about being ready for His coming because we don’t know when it will be:
    • 24:45-51 – The “faithful and wise servant”
    • 25:1-13 – The “ten virgins”
    • 25:14-30 – The “talents”
  • 25:31-46 – Description of how it will be on that final “day of the Lord”. A good portion of this is repeated by Jesus in a different setting in Luke 17:20-27.
Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus states a universal truth that only God the Father knows when the second coming of Christ will be.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’
At that time, John the Baptist would preach in the wilderness to the people that they should repent because the kingdom of heaven was near. It was John the Baptism that the prophet Isaiah had foretold would be the one in the wilderness crying out for everyone to, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight.”

The apostle Matthew’s account of the life of Christ.

Scripture-block application to this question

John the Baptist preached that the kingdom of God was near or “at hand.”

Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.

Be silent before God, for the day of the Lord is near. God has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated His guests.

Zephaniah prophesied during the time of King Josiah in Judah (1:1).  Therefore, Israel had already been led away by Assyria. Judah’s fate of Babylonian captivity has already been decreed by God thanks to the wickedness of the people by prophets that have come before Zephaniah (e.g. Isaiah, Micah, etc.).

Although not quoted by any New Testament writers directly, Zephaniah may be the most “packed” prophet with Messianic language and foreshadowing. God, through Zephaniah, decries the “day of the Lord” throughout, and while at times it’s regarding Judah, he’s also clearly speaking of a much larger and all-encompassing “day of the Lord”.

Language pointing to Jesus/Day of Pentecost and/or a final judgment day:

  • 1:7 – The “sacrifice” and “consecrated guests”,
  • 1:15 – “a day of clouds and thick darkness” (xref Joel 2, Acts 2),
  • 1:16 – “a day of trumpet blast”,
  • 1:17 – “distress on mankind” (not just Judah),
  • 1:18 – “all the earth shall be consumed for a full and sudden end”,
  • chapter 2 – judgment on all nations (not just Judah),
  • 3:8 – a “gathering of nations” (xref Acts 2)
  • 3:11 – introduction of God’s “holy mountain” (xref Isaiah 2),
  • 3:14 – Zion
  • 3:15 – “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst” (xref Acts 2:38-39 and the “gift/promise of the Holy Spirit”),
  • 3:19 – “save the lame and gather the outcast”
Scripture-block application to this question

God’s “great day” is not only emphatically “near” (repeated twice), but coming “fast”.

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While Zephaniah is clearly speaking of a “day of the Lord” that’s coming for Judah, he’s also clearly speaking of Messiah as well as final (e.g. “the end”) judgment. Zephaniah expresses both the imminence (for Judah) as well as the inevitability (500+ years for Messiah and still awaiting a “final”).

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Charlie Brackett

Peter’s use of “at hand” in 1 Peter 4:7 brings to mind two thoughts. First, in the heavenly context time means nothing. One day is as a thousand years. And, on earth no one can be sure of continued life. Death is always unpredictably imminent. I believe Peter is telling us to be ready, always ready. We cannot know when this life is over and we are in the timelessness of eternity.